Berkeley Buddhist Priory Newsletter
December 2015 – February 2016
The following rewording of the Kanzeon Scripture is by Rev. Master Koten of the Lion’s Gate Buddhist Priory in British Columbia, Canada. He has been giving Dharma talks during recent retreats on the meaning of various daily scriptures in plain language. Some people have found it helpful and urged him to write the talks out so others could read them.
The following writing was the result and was first published in the Lions Gate Buddhist Priory Newsletter, July-October 2015.
Why is Great Compassion so important to training that it is called the very offspring and heir of the Buddha?
Great Compassion responds to all beings and situations without exception. It produces and comes forth from deep commitment to training ourselves. It is essential to understanding and practicing the teaching of all the Buddhas.
When people hear about Great Compassion, look for its manifestations in their lives and cherish it within their own hearts, then everything is transformed.
If events should overwhelm you, pushing you towards suffering and pain, bring to mind, practice and realize Great Compassion and that situation will be transformed and you will be able to be still no matter what happens.
If you are drifting, without purpose, and life seems to be about to drown you, remember, think on, bring to mind and call upon Great Compassion and you will see compassion in the situation and be able to stay afloat.
If circumstances cast you down and there seems no way to get up, bring to mind, remember and practice great compassion and you will be lifted up.
If you fall and hurt yourself on the rocks of life, remember again Great Compassion and let go of the hurt and continue on.
If surrounded by threatening events and people who wish you harm, call upon, bring to mind and practice Great Compassion and the minds of those people will change for the better.
When you are persecuted by events and there is no way out, think on, remember the great power of compassion and a way through will appear.
If tied up and chained down by events, frustrated, unable to escape, bear in mind and remember compassion and it will free you.
When others spread poison about you or try to manipulate you, call upon, practice and rely on Great Compassion and they will be unable to do you any real harm.
If evil should come, terrifying you, rely on the strength of Great Compassion and it will be unable to have any power over you.
When anger or desire threaten to overwhelm you, remember, hold fast to, and take refuge in compassion and you will be able to be still in the midst of it.
When you cannot see what is good to do because of overwhelming distractions, think on, remember and take refuge in Great Compassion and the sky will clear.
If struck by unfairness and disaster or pain you cannot bear, remember, take refuge in and practice compassion and you will be able to go on.
The power of Great Compassion is miraculous, can be applied in all situations, in all worlds, everywhere. There is no place where it cannot manifest itself hellish, bestial, evil, pain. In all circumstances and mental states compassion can be applied.
To view things in this way and take refuge in compassion is not delusion or wishful thinking but seeing things as they really are, in Truth, free from confusion, full of love for all beings.
Great Compassion must always be remembered, prayed to, thought upon throughout our entire lives. She is Pure Light, Wisdom dispelling all darkness, overcoming all obstacles. When the entire universe is shaking She sits still and pours out Great Compassion on the entire world, putting out the fires.
When the news of the world grieves and oppresses us, think on the power of Great Compassion and remember that nothing can resist the power of Compassion.
When we listen for the call of Great Compassion in our lives we will hear the exquisite, powerful and incomparable Voice of kindness and clarity and stillness above all the clamor and din of the world.
Because of all of this we should have faith in and remember Great Compassion, a true, holy refuge in all grief, trouble and disaster, even in the face of death and destruction.
Great Compassion can never be exhausted, is full of merits and virtues. Because of this She must forever be adored.
They who hear this Teaching about Great Compassion and remember to practice it will receive inestimable merit because here the power of Great Compassion is described and explained. The life of Compassion, endowed with all miraculous power, appears everywhere.
The power of this teaching on Great Compassion causes those who truly listen to and practice it to want to go all the way on this incomparable Path to the Unborn.
On Being a Buddhist Reading Group Member
by Mary Gray
Homage to the Buddha who is our true teacher.
Homage to the Dharma which is the medicine for all suffering.
Homage to the Sangha which is filled with wise and compassionate people.
As a member of the Berkeley Buddhist Priory and its Sangha, I have been taking refuge in these words since the beginning of my relationship with this temple. These words help me to internalize the concept of the Three Treasures, binding me always to the precepts and helping me “sit still” amidst the thunder of painful feelings. Referring to Rev. Master Jiyu’s commentary on the Kyojukaimon, these Treasures are described in the following manner – “The highest Truth is called the Buddha Treasure.” “Immaculacy is called the Dharma Treasure….”Harmony is the Sangha Treasure.” It is this latter Treasure – the Sangha – that I want to explore in this article. And I want to explore it within the context of the Buddhist reading group.
The Berkeley Buddhist Reading Group began about 18 months ago, having been a lingering idea for sometime. A couple of years ago, while traveling from Pine Mountain Temple and the annual aging retreat, Sangha member Jennifer Chinlund asked a Shasta Sangha member, Laurie Ottens, about the nature of their reading group. Jennifer then spoke to Rev. Kinrei who thought that forming a reading group was a good idea, and from that meeting, our current group came into being in early 2014. We have 21 people on our list of attendees with monthly meetings averaging 12-14 persons in attendance. We have had one new member join very recently and another will be attending her first meeting in December, which will be 22 people. We rotate homes and meet the first Thursday of each month. We begin each meeting with a few minutes of quiet and often (not always) end with the same. There is only one Buddhist member who is not closely associated with the Berkeley Priory. To date we have read five books and are currently finishing “There Is No Suffering (A Commentary on the Heart Sutra)” by Chan Master Sheng-Yen. In a rather informal inquiry I made recently as to what the Buddhist reading group means to its members, it seems that the predominant sentiment is that it provides an opportunity to be with and deepen the relationship with Sangha.
The above are the facts about the group. The direct experience of it is another matter!
I began coming to the Priory in 1999. A very dear friend and I had been going to a 12 Step Group for Adult Children for quite some time. She had found the Priory and thought I would like it because, according to her, I wouldn’t “have to talk to anyone.” I had tried meditation many times in the past but could never sustain it. At the time of finding the Priory, I certainly did not think that the help I needed would have so very much to do with being with other people, but I was willing to do just about anything to find my way through my uniquely special kind of suffering (“non-Buddhist thinking”, a phrase used often by Rev. Master Jiyu in “The Wild White Goose, the Diary of a Female Zen Priest”). I desperately wanted to be in relationship but ran from it constantly, wanted to belong and went to great lengths to keep myself from belonging. So what does all of this have to do with the Berkeley Sangha’s reading group? Two things come to mind: Kicking and screaming “No” I find myself saying “Yes”. And what I think I’m saying “yes” to is being a part of something much fuller, bigger….mysterious.
Often on the days leading up to the Thursday meeting, I find myself kind of dreading it, feeling at a loss to describe to myself or anyone else what I have read, afraid that I’ll have nothing to contribute or that I’ll say something stupid. Just not being able to hold onto anything. These feelings usually hang around until the day of the meeting at which time they often intensify if only for a few minutes as the meeting gets under way. Right this moment as I write, I smile when I remember having a phone conversation about the reading group with another member and saying that I couldn’t point to anything I’d learned and couldn’t really articulate anything I’d read. My friend said that the only thing she could remember from “Don’t Take Your Life Personally” by Ajahn Sumedho was how important he said it is to relax with your mental states, rather than fighting against them! I often remind myself that it’s okay to read with my heart and not my head.
Members of the reading group try to arrive a little early to get tea and socialize a bit. Close to 7:30 we find our way to our seats and the host or hostess will rings a bell three times to start with a few minutes of meditation. At this point, I almost always remind myself that I am not in charge of the group. No one is, and I remind myself that this gathering of Sangha has a beingness that is bigger and fuller than the sum of its participants – that it has its own wisdom and compassion. I don’t have to worry! Others are present sharing the experience and responsibility with me.
The meeting usually begins with one person reading a particular passage from whatever book we’re reading. That person may or may not indicate why this passage has been chosen. Sometimes quiet follows the reading. Sometimes not. It is a joy to be in a group which not only tolerates the concept of “pausing” but seems to thrive within its quiet moments. We use a “talking stick”, and when someone wants to speak, they reach for this “stick”. This seems to be a graceful and gentle way of slowing down the process we are sharing. Often another passage is read which in some way relates to the first reading…sometimes the connection is not obvious…sometimes there is no connection at all that we are aware of. At a recent meeting, one member said something which for me describes what it is like to participate with Sangha in our reading group. “Here we are in this group struggling to put these ideas and experiences into words in order to share them with each other. Yet words come from the dualistic mind and can’t truly capture what we’re experiencing, so we share fragments and not exact points, and as we do this sharing, something happens in the group that is sort of like the experience we’re trying to share.”
Over the course of an hour plus or minus we meander through related and seemingly unrelated material. We struggle with words as comments are made and subjects are explored. Often members express how challenging it is to even speak of some of these matters. Harmony consistently abides and embraces the gathering. Sometimes we end quietly – sometimes we end with a torrent of words, thoughts, released ideas with the talking stick forgotten. Sometimes we remember to have a few closing moments of meditation. Sometimes not.
At the end of most meetings, we seem to find ourselves lingering – obviously tired but not particularly eager to walk out the door and head home. I am profoundly grateful to be a part of this reading group, and I am reminded of what author Tara Brach, in her book “Radical Acceptance” says about being in relationship: “When we’re on a spiritual path, we might feel that to be freed from our emotional struggles is a matter of meditating or praying more. But no matter how much we meditate or pray, we still need others to help us dismantle the walls of our isolation and remind us of our belonging. Remembering that we are connected to others and our world is the essence of healing.” My dilemma about belonging continues to dissolve – Ever so slowly, it just happens.
I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.
by Rev. Kinrei
On September 10th. I went to England for two weeks, to stay at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in northern England. The purpose of the visit was a gathering of the monastic Sangha of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. It was a deep privilege to spend some time with the community at Throssel and many of my fellow monks. The main issue we discussed was the aging of the monastic Sangha and how we can approach the inevitable problems that we will face. It was a helpful to discuss these issues and to gain a deeper awareness of how we can approach this basic aspect of life as a new Buddhist Sangha in the West.
We had our yearly memorial for Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett on November 8 and it was very well attended. Rev. Master Jiyu was the founder of the Priory and is the direct source of our spiritual tradition. It is an important aspect of Buddhist practice that we express our gratitude for her deep teaching and wonderful example. Also on that day, we also celebrated my 36th years as a Buddhist monk. The generosity and good wishes of the Priory Sangha is deeply appreciated.
In addition to our usual Sunday Priory schedule on November 8th, we organized a lovely walk that afternoon on the Tennessee Valley trail in Marin and then a dinner at the Indian restaurant in Mill Valley. Many people went for the walk to the Pacific Ocean and then most went for a wonderful Indian meal. Spending time with our fellow Sangha members is an important part of taking refuge in the Sangha and the outing seemed to be appreciated.
The Priory water heater developed a leak and needed replacing and a new water heater was installed this November. The plumbers also added a new gas line for our kitchen. We then replaced our old and very worn electric stove with a new gas stove. Having a new, modern gas stove is a great improvement and it is deeply appreciated.
Charity is one of the four wisdoms and demonstrates the Bodhisattva’s aspiration. Deep appreciation and gratitude is offered to all those who contribute their spiritual practice, money, time, energy, and various gifts to the Priory. The generosity of the entire Priory Sangha is what makes it possible for the Priory to exist and for the Dharma to be freely offered to whomever is interested.
In recent months, we have been given many generous gifts, including cat food, meditation benches, an incense holder, paper plates, dish detergent, books, kitty litter, toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, and cleaning supplies.
Providing monks with food is the traditional offering given when coming to a Buddhist temple, and we appreciate all the generous food offerings we have been given, which provide most of the food for the Priory. During the past few months we have been given food donations of various vegetables and fruit, soy milk, eggs, tofu, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian meats, apple juice, peanut butter, cheese, beans, soups, salads, oats, bagels, bread, coffee, herbal and black teas, granola, salsa, fruit juice, crackers, nuts, chips, dried fruit, fruit preserves, chocolates, cookies, candy, pies, and cakes. You are always welcome to check with the Priory on what foods are currently needed.
Animal Funerals and Naming Ceremonies
Mr. Sunny, a male dog, was killed in a car accident and had his funeral on September 8. On November 10, the Priory had a funeral for Tobi Zausner’s cat, Angelica and a Buddhist naming ceremony for another of her cat’s, Ariel. Using modern technology, we used Skype with video and this allowed Tobi and another friend in New York City to see the animal services taking place in California.
Priory Meditation Retreats
December 12 January 16 February 13 March 12
Retreats are an excellent way to deepen our meditation and training. The retreat begins at 8am and the day is a mixture of meditation, Dharma talks and Buddhist services. The retreat is over at 5pm. Please register in advance for all the retreats.
Rev. Kinrei is available to discuss your spiritual practice and to help you to better apply the Dharma to your life. Taking refuge in a senior member of the Sangha is an important aid in gaining a better perspective and deeper insight into our spiritual life. It is also helpful in learning to cultivate openness and trust. You are welcome to contact the Priory and arrange a time to meet.
Buddha’s Enlightenment: Sunday, December 6
The Priory will celebrate the great Enlightenment of the Buddha, on Sunday, December 6. Part of practicing at the Priory is learning to make Buddhism an integral part of our life. Growing up in America means we were raised and familiar with Judeo-Christian religious celebrations and we are not acquainted with comparable Buddhist traditions. An important aspect of human life is sharing and celebrating with others. Although we offer many different ceremonies and services at the Priory, there are certain holidays that it is helpful for the Sangha to make a special effort to come together and share their gratitude with others. Commemorating the Buddha’s Enlightenment in December is an occasion for the Sangha to gather together and express their gratitude and joy for the immeasurable gift of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We welcome everyone to join us for the ceremony and for a potluck lunch which follows the Dharma talk.
New Year’s Eve Meditation Vigil and New Year’s Ceremony
The New Year’s meditation vigil and ceremony provides an opportunity to reflect on the past year and establish a direction for the year ahead. Starting at 9:00 pm on Thursday, December 31, there will be meditation at the Priory until 11:30 pm. Then we will hold a New Year’s ceremony to offer our gratitude and willingness to the Buddha for the upcoming year. After the ceremony there will be a festive tea in which the Sangha can celebrate the New Year in a peaceful and joyous way.
Shasta Abbey Retreats
Attending a retreat at Shasta Abbey is an excellent way to deepen one’s Buddhist life by living and practicing together with a large community of monastic and lay members of the Sangha. The introductory retreats are the recommended first step in practicing at the Abbey. For more information, you can go to their website at www.shastaabbey.org or contact the Guestmaster at (530) 926-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introductory Retreat February 12-14 April 8-10
New Year Celebratory Retreat December 28 – January 1
Continuing Practice Retreat February 26 – 28
Jukai- The Ten Precepts Retreat March 20–27
November 28 Priory Work Day
Helping the Priory and Work Days
Buddhist training is based not just on receiving the spiritual benefits that Dharma practice provides, but also our own willingness to cultivate gratitude and find ways to make offerings. Giving our valuable time to help with the work of the Priory is very much needed if the Priory is to flourish. During the past few months, Sangha members came by the Priory and helped with many different tasks such as painting, yard work, gardening, cleaning, cooking, construction, computer work and bookkeeping. Please contact the Priory if you wish to help; we always have plenty of work that needs doing. In addition, the Priory has been having regular work days which have been a great help with fixing up and maintaining the Priory and its grounds. You are welcome to come to the Priory whenever you can and offer your help. The next work day is scheduled for Saturdays, January 30 and March 26, from 9:30 to 3:00, but we welcome everyone to help for whatever part of the day they can come.
Priory Support and Membership
The word dana is an ancient Buddhist term meaning generosity—giving and receiving, from heart to heart. The Buddha highly recommended this as one of the most important Buddhist virtues, because it truly benefits the giver as well as the receiver. It is through simple acts of giving that we can begin to build a foundation for our religious training. Whether we live the life of monks or the life of a lay person, generosity makes the heart grow brighter. It helps us to overcome selfishness and attachment, and to open our hearts. It is a necessary element in the growth of kindness and compassion, which, in turn, are necessary for real peace of mind, as well as for deepening any religious practice.
The Buddha established a practice of mutual dependence between the monastic and lay Sangha. To oversimplify, the monks offer the Dharma, to all who ask, and the lay people offer material support to the monks. This helps all involved in Buddhist training, whether monastic or lay, to experience the benefits of dana for ourselves and thus grow our faith and trust in the Buddha-Dharma.
In an act of faith and in keeping with the monastic part of this commitment, the Priory is willingly dependent for its existence on the generosity of our friends and congregation. We receive no support from any other source, there are no fees of any kind for instruction or participation in Priory activities. Your gifts of support, whether financial, material, labor, or of any other kind, are deeply appreciated, and they assist the Priory in continuing to offer the Dharma. Your greatest support is simply your continued presence and practice.
One of the best ways to help the Priory is to make the commitment to be a Priory Member. What this involves is making a pledge to contribute a certain amount of money to the Priory each month. There is no set or recommended amount as we leave it up to each individual to offer what he or she feels is appropriate. This commitment is a tremendous help to the Priory because it gives us a stable financial base. More importantly, deciding to become a member has deep spiritual significance. It means you are choosing to help take responsibility for the continued existence of the Priory. Some of you may only be able to pledge a few dollars a month and think it is not worth making such an insignificant commitment. Yet it is important to offer whatever you can and be willing to make a formal commitment to be part of the Priory. The most important help members bring to the Priory and the Sangha is not their donations but their Buddhist training. By being willing to come to the Priory and train with others, we help make the Priory a true refuge of the Sangha.
However, we are not suggesting that everyone who occasionally attends the Priory or gives us donations should become a member. For many people, it is not appropriate to make such a commitment, and we welcome them to join us whenever they wish, to help us in the manner they feel appropriate, and to be valued friends of the Priory.